If you could learn to dance from fiction, I’d be able to do the jitterbug after reading Clare Morrall’s novel, After the Bombing. I’m not sure what kind of dancing they did in 1860s Indiana, but the female soldier, Ash, is full of admiration for her husband’s prowess in Laird Hunt’s Neverhome. In my novel, Sugar and Snails, my narrator dressed up in a borrowed tutu and danced without inhibition as a toddler, but sadly never felt as comfortable in her body again. This flash is for her:
I might be grey, respectable, with farther to fall, but I’ll find that child within me. I’ll hop and jump and jiggle my arse, I’ll wiggle and wobble, I’ll prance and pirouette with every cell to music no-one else can hear.
Must be something about me, but my next novel, Underneath, out in May 2017, features a dancing child too. Of course, I can’t guarantee this will survive the edits, but here’s a taster of how Steve, as a young boy, takes the words of Cliff Richard’s Living Doll a little too literally, with dreadful consequences for the adult he’ll become:
When the twins go to Guides, me and Mummy like to dance to our records. We choose our favourites, holding them between our palms so as not to smudge them, as we stack them up on the spindle. The record player drops them one by one onto the turntable, spins them round at supersonic speed, stretches out its arm and slips the needle in the groove and – abracadabra! – the songs keep on coming till we’re too tired to dance.
Polly and Celia listen to David Cassidy and the Osmonds, but me and Mummy like the old songs best. Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and the Beatles: songs that have us bouncing round the room. Mummy wears a yellow scarf and a flared pink skirt that balloons out as she twirls to the music. When we do the twist, we dance in our own individual spaces, sticking out our elbows and bending our knees and corkscrewing down to the floor. When we do the jive, we hold hands, stepping away and rushing back, pushing off and pulling in. My hand feels snug in Mummy’s but, sometimes, if I step away when I should be rushing back, my fingers lose hers. But she always catches me in time for when she has to lift her arm and send me spinning underneath, while Daddy smiles at us from the photo on top of the telly. When the last record’s finished we’re exhausted. We fall on to the sofa and laugh.
Today, Living Doll is my favourite. Did Cliff Richard really do that, Mummy? I say. Did he lock up a lady in a trunk so he could have her all to himself?
I don’t think so, says Mummy. It’s just a song. You’re not supposed to take it serious.
But he could though, couldn’t he, if he really wanted to?
No, says Mummy, not even Cliff Richard would get away with that.
Mummy slips the records back inside their paper sleeves. I look at Daddy locked up in his silver frame on top of the telly. What if it wasn’t a trunk? I say.
The lid of the record player squeaks as Mummy brings it down. What are you on about? she says.
I wriggle with the effort of explaining. Would it be all right if he locked her up in something bigger? Like a wardrobe or a cupboard or a garden shed?
Mummy unfastens the knot in her scarf. I don’t know where you get your ideas from.
I wait until her forehead goes smooth again. What if it was a whole room? I say. A whole ginormous underground room.
Mummy says: Let’s get your jamas on. It’s time you were in bed.
Thanks for reading! Do let me know of any novels that dance.